Obeying pit-road speed limit proving to be tricky

Drivers say they don't need them, but given the rash of speeding penalties on pit road, is a speedometer too much to ask? Terry Blount's Blitz

Updated: March 24, 2007, 11:44 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

NASCAR is switching to a new car anyway, so how about adding a speedometer to the dashboard? Is that really too much to ask?

Dale Jarrett (44)
Jason D. Smith-US PRESSWIREDale Jarrett did not have much luck gauging the right speed on pit road in Atlanta.

The Car of Tomorrow doesn't have a simple speedometer of yesterday.

I've been down this road before with crew chiefs and drivers, many of whom say they don't need it. If you've watched the first four Cup races this season, apparently they do.

Speeding on pit road is more common than NASCAR's phantom debris cautions.

Here's one example of how bad the problem is: Dale Jarrett got caught speeding down pit road at Atlanta on Sunday when he was coming in on a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road.

All the cars have tachometers to show engine RPMs, but it must not be a truly accurate way to gauge speed when NASCAR officials are penalizing drivers for going two or three miles per hour over the pit speed limit.

Speedometers also can be inaccurate if not calibrated properly. NASCAR officials don't want to add that to the list of things they have to approve each week.

So don't do it. Let the teams worry about it. If the speedometer is off, that's their problem. Something needs to change, because the system now of using the tach just isn't working.

NHRA safety needs upgrade
In light of the tragic death of NHRA Funny Car driver Eric Medlen, it's time for the NHRA and track owners who play host to NHRA events to add the SAFER barrier to the outside retaining walls.

Medlen died Friday, four days after he suffered a severe head injury in a test session crash at Gainesville, Fla. He was 33.

The Mustang blew a tire and turned directly into the barrier as the throttle stuck, forcing the car to hit the wall twice at very high speeds.

Had the collapsible barrier been in place, the G-force load at impact would have been significantly reduced.

This barrier makes a major difference. David Reutimann suffered only a bruised foot after a violent head-on crash into the barrier at California Speedway in a Nextel Cup race last month.

Every NASCAR and IndyCar track now uses the SAFER barrier. The NHRA needs to do the same. In this age of advanced safety in auto racing, it's almost barbaric to make a concrete wall part of a driver's safety net.

Installing the barrier isn't cheap. It adds more than 18 inches to the width of the walls, so the NHRA tracks would need to move the concrete barrier back. In some cases, that could mean repaving the track.

Whatever it costs, just do it. What is one life worth? And the financial cost is low compared to adding the barrier at large speedways like Daytona, Talladega and Indianapolis.

Junior backsliding
The frustration level for Dale Earnhardt Jr. is causing him to revert to his old ways, and those aren't good ways. Earnhardt called out crew chief Tony Eury Jr. after Sunday's race at Atlanta.

"I don't know what the hell Tony and those guys did to the car, but it was terrible," Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt finished 14th after running in the top five late in the race, but publicly blasting your team isn't going to help.

Bickering between Earnhardt and Eury (his cousin) in 2004 is what caused Dale Earnhardt Inc. owner Teresa Earnhardt to split them in 2005, a move that didn't work for either team.

You have to wonder whether Earnhardt's unhappiness at how the season has started has any impact on his contract negotiations.

If he gets majority ownership, he can change it. If he leaves, which appears unlikely now, he can change it. But staying with minority ownership doesn't change a thing.

Thankless task
The worst job in NASCAR this weekend goes to the men and women who inspect the Cup cars on Friday morning in Bristol, Tenn.

It's the first race for the Car of Tomorrow. Teams are going to make mistakes on the new regulations for the COT. Inspectors are going to see things they haven't seen before.

Inspectors probably will give the teams a little leeway as they roll the COTs into the room of doom for the first time.

But some crews will need to make corrections, so how to assess possible penalties is a tougher judgment call than usual.

Heck of a run
In 10 seasons as an NHRA Funny Car driver, Ron Capps never hit the throttle too soon at the starting line, an amazing accomplishment considering how easy it is to do.

We're talking about a tenth of a second or less reaction time at the Christmas Tree (vertical lights that signal a driver when to go).

That first foul finally happened for Capps when he red-lighted in the semifinals at Phoenix two weeks ago.

"It really bugged me," Capps said. "I couldn't wait to get back in the car."

Capps made up for it at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., by winning the event for the second consecutive year. Capps closed to within six points of Robert Hight for the top spot in Funny Car after three events.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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